A Glimpse at the 21:9 Future

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It feels as if new Android devices are falling into a rut, especially at the mid to low-end of the market. Manufacturers seem content with launching near carbon copies of one another with punch-hole cutouts or ridiculous and needless notches. Then tying them to low-spec processors and camera hardware that is ill-used just to have another sensor on the back. Sony wants to buck that trend, and while the new Xperia 10 lineup departs from what most other manufacturers are doing today, they fall into the same traps that have hurt them and the Xperia brand in the past. At the same time, Sony is hoping to give us a glimpse into what could be yet another new form factor revision.

Sony Xperia 10 XDA Forum Sony Xperia 10 Plus XDA Forum

Last year, when I reviewed the Xperia Xperia XZ3 flagship, I critiqued it immensely for losing a lot of the elements that make a Sony device different. While Sony has had a rough time competing in the overall market, there was still a Sony charm you got with their devices, things other manufacturers were not doing. That phone dropped almost all of that in a rush to go mainstream and, in my opinion, caused the device to suffer and sink into near obscurity. This year though, Sony is aiming to reignite that unique experience you get when you choose Xperia. While there is a lot of buzz around their cameras and departmental infighting between brands, the hardware is the first area where they are hoping to leave their mark and the Xperia 10 pair is their testing ground – join us as we do an overview of the Sony Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus.

Category Sony Xperia 10 Sony Xperia 10 Plus
Dimensions and Weight 156 x 68 x 8.4mm, 162g 167 x 73 x 8.3mm, 180g
Design Corning Gorilla Glass 5, Side sense Corning Gorilla Glass 5, Side sense
Display 6.0-inch FHD++ LCD, 21:9 6.5-inch FHD++ LCD, 21:9
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
Memory 3GB RAM 4GB RAM
Storage 64GB UFS, expandable with microSD up to 512GB 64GB, expandable with microSD up to 512GB
Rear Cameras 13MP (1/3.0″) + 5MP (1/4″) Bokeh
ISO 12800 (photo), ISO 3200 (video)
4K movie recording
12MP (1/2.8″) + 8MP (1/4″) Optical Zoom/Bokeh
ISO 12800 (photo), ISO 3200 (video)
4K movie recording
Front Camera 8MP (1/4.0″)
ISO 3200 (photo), ISO 1600 (video)
8MP (1/4.0″)
ISO 3200 (photo), ISO 1600 (video)
Battery 2,870mAh 3,000mAh
Charging PD charging PD charging
Audio High-Resolution Audio, DSEE HX, LDAC, Smart Amplifier, Monaural speaker, Stereo recording High-Resolution Audio, DSEE HX, LDAC, Smart Amplifier, Monaural speaker, Stereo recording
Software Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie
Connectivity 3CA LTE, Cat. 12/13 LTE 3CA LTE, Cat. 12/13 LTE
Ports and Buttons Side-mounted fingerprint scanner, 3.5mm headphone jack Side-mounted fingerprint scanner, 3.5mm headphone jack
Colors Black, Silver, Navy, Pink Black, Silver, Navy, Gold

Sony Xperia 10 Hardware

The two Xperia devices, like many others, come in a small and large size. There are a lot of things similar between these two phones, and there is also a lot that is different. Here is what is the same. Both Xperia 10 devices feature 21:9 1080p LCD displays with Gorilla Glass 5 and 64GB of internal storage. They both feature a top-mounted headphone jack, SD card slot, single bottom firing speaker, USB-C, NFC, and side-mounted fingerprint sensor. They also both feature the same body style and build, making them near carbon copies externally, just in a different size. That body is poly-carbonate painted plastic that actually feels really good in your hand, except for the fact that they are outrageously slippery. Since the back of the phone flows around the side to be the frame, there is no solid grip point to make handling easier. The right side mounted fingerprint sensors are in the perfect location unlike the one found on the Galaxy S10e. While you certainly can get used to the mounting on the Galaxy, the Xperia 10 is exactly where you expect it to be with your fingers rarely missing it regardless of which hand you are holding it with. I also prefer the Sony sensor since it doesn’t double as a power key – but it will still wake the device on a press – so it feels very firm compared to the rather loose and sloppy feeling S10e sensor. Unfortunately, though, it does not have any other special features like swiping down for a notification shade – something the Xperia XZ2 and XZ3 also lacked.

Battery life is alright on the two phones with the Xperia 10 having less than average battery life and the Xperia 10 Plus coming in slightly above. You should be able to go all-day with both models under light to moderate usage, but the smaller Xperia 10 will need a top-up through the day to keep you from getting a low battery indicator before nightfall.

If you go with the smaller Xperia 10, you are getting a 6.0-inch 21:9 aspect ratio display mated to a Snapdragon 630 processor, 3GB of RAM (some Asian markets get 4GB), and a dual camera setup like OnePlus uses where you have a primary shooter and a secondary camera that serves little more purpose than being on the stat sheet – it serves for extra depth mapping. In hand, the Xperia 10 is surprisingly comfortable and comparing it to similarly sized devices like the Samsung Galaxy S10e and Pixel 3, it is both narrower and taller than each of those devices thanks to its extra tall display. This takes some getting used to but comes with some advantages. Narrower devices are much easier to hold than tall devices but they come at the expense of ease of use when trying to pull down the notification shade. That being said, Sony placed the display at the extreme bottom of the device having a smaller chin than even the iPhone XS. While this can make it difficult to handle with things like a keyboard being cramped on the bottom of the physical device, it does have an added benefit. When you match up the bottom of the display panel with the Galaxy S10e and Pixel 3, you see that the Xperia 10 does not stretch a whole lot higher than those displays relative to their physical hardware. This makes reaching to the top corner of the display slightly easier than you might expect given its proportions on paper. That doesn’t mean it is easy, and you will notice the extra height. As I mentioned earlier as well, the phone is very comfortable in your hand.

The Xperia 10 Plus is quite a different animal. There is no way around calling it an absolute behemoth. It features a 21:9 6.5-inch display that makes the overall device about the same width as the OnePlus 6T while being a fingers width taller. However, despite having a .1-inch taller display the overall display area is 2.2cm² smaller due to the much taller and narrower aspect ratio. Performance on the Xperia 10 Plus comes from the Snapdragon 636 mated to 4GB of RAM which delivers a much better experience than the one that you get on the smaller Xperia 10’s Snapdragon 630, but not by a whole lot. Around back you have a true dual-camera layout both of which feature PDAF or Phase Detect Auto-focus. Unfortunately, the larger Xperia 10 Plus is nowhere near as comfortable to use as its smaller brother. The larger phone is the very definition of unwieldy with a massive unbalance to its design making the phone very top-heavy. I’ve felt phones that seem to want to flip out of your hand, but this is a phone that actually will and does. Compounding the issue is the smooth back to the frame with a rounded plastic corner and a finish that is incredibly flat and slippery. There is no grip on this phone and without a case, it will always slide right through your hand, something it did quite often on me.

When it comes to performance we aren’t seeing anything new here and that is a problem. Sony failed to move the goalposts forward and ships both of these at prices that could be competitive with performance that absolutely isn’t. The Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus come in at $349 and $449 at their MSRP prices, and while Sony has always been overpriced, I feel their processor choices here are especially indicative of failing to compete with the smaller Xperia 10 shipping with the same processor as last years Xperia XA2 line. Qualcomm seems to be launching a new mid to low tier processor every week, but Sony – and others like Motorola and Nokia – are launching phones with two-year-old processors that weren’t exactly performance machines at the time they launched. The smaller Xperia 10 with its dismal 2017-era Snapdragon 630 delivers a lackluster experience with significant delays when unlocking, application opening, and general UI responsiveness. That said, it is still usable and I don’t think you will have many issues as long as you don’t flip to a flagship regularly. A bigger problem is that the phone ships with only 3GB of RAM which means most times you are running with around 80% of your RAM utilized and makes most applications require redraws after only a few minutes of not being in the foreground. When an already slow processor is forced to reload applications on the regular, it isn’t a great experience.

The larger – and more expensive – Xperia 10 Plus ships with last years Snapdragon 636 which is quite the step up in performance in comparison. The bigger difference is the reduction of a lot of application redraws thanks to having 4GB’s of RAM. Scrolling is smoother and responsiveness is solid, but it is still not quite what I feel is acceptable at $429 considering last year the OnePlus 6 launched with a flagship processor, 6GB of RAM, a superior camera, better software experience, and more for only $100 extra. Google recently launched the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, and both of those ship with a flagship topping camera experience and the far more apt Qualcomm Snapdragon 670. While neither of these phones will win the smartphone speed test challenges on YouTube, the Snapdragon 670 is a much better processor choice at the $400 price point.


Sony Xperia 10 Software

Speaking of software, the Xperia 10’s do not depart much from what Sony has been doing for a few years now. They both ship with Android Pie and Sony’s lightweight skin on top that adds a few functionality improvements, but not much else. You should check out my Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ3 reviews for a deeper dive into software. One of those additions is Sony’s Side Sense application that allows you to double tap on the edge of the display to get a floating menu that enables you to do things like open commonly used applications, slide down the notification menu, and turn on the one-handed mode. I personally do not like to use this menu since it is rather slow to open and you can already access the excellent one-handed mode by double tapping the home key. Otherwise, Sony’s skin is unobtrusive and well-done, but I think an Android One based OS would be preferred for more brand uniformity for Android as a whole and to stop Sony’s skin from feeling a bit dated in areas like the settings menu.

Sony didn’t just throw a 21:9 display on the phone and call it a day though as they did add features that enhance the experience. One of those things they did was make it so that when you use split-screen in portrait, your top content does not flow off the display when the keyboard is up. This is a large benefit to people who like to have media playing at the top of the display while messaging and whatnot on the bottom. Some other OEM’s like Samsung already do this, but it is not currently something afforded in stock Android. One of the things Sony did push is the way landscape split-screen is enhanced thanks to the 21:9 display, but I just don’t see it while holding the phones horizontally. You do get a wider overall display but the usability of it in landscape is still very low and the keyboard still takes up the full width of the panel in this mode, making it nearly impossible to use. I really like the enhancements to portrait mode though, as I noticed myself using it a lot to watch videos and browse Reddit simultaneously more than I normally do. In terms of updates, I haven’t yet received any on my phones and they are running the February update but Sony is usually pretty good about keeping their devices relatively up to date.


Sony Xperia 10 Camera

One area where I was hoping to see Sony have a step up on the competition is in the camera department, but it is mixed. As I mentioned in the onset the two phones ship with differing camera setups with the larger Xperia 10 Plus having a true dual camera setup with a 12MP f1.8 27mm primary shooter and 8MP f2.4 53mm telephoto shooter. The smaller Xperia 10 also has a dual sensor but only shoots with one, using the other for extra depth data like OnePlus phones. That primary sensor is 13MP, f2.0 and also stands at 27mm, and the depth sensor is 5MP. The photos and videos you get from both phones stand firmly in “fine” for the price but don’t really stand out to me. However, I don’t use mid-low range devices often, so comparing it to a flagship would be rather unfair. So below are some shots I got with the two phones and my brief thoughts.

Xperia 10 & Xperia 10 Plus

I was impressed with the color reproduction in some of the shots. They felt very natural and although some may have skewed very warm, overall they got the feel of the shot which is what I feel a lot of other phones can miss, even at higher price points. It is nice to see these photos with very little post-processing as well, likely due to the capabilities of the hardware, and that gives the photos an authentic feel. It does have a few issues with exposure where it not only blew out the sky but also smothered the shadows, a compromise I’d rather have it skew one or the other instead of muddling between. Low light is about the same situation and despite both devices having different cameras, you see very similar traits and results. One area where I feel Sony really dropped the ball was with the selfie camera. Both devices put out washed out, over processed photos that really weren’t appealing in the least.

The cameras aren’t what I wished they were and at $349 and $429 they really do break even or underperform compared to what other devices are capable of at this price, especially true with the Xperia 10 Plus. However, the Pixel 3a just launched and pretty much lays waste to the whole segment of the market in this $400 price range. That said, this is pretty much what we have come to expect from Sony over the past few years across their whole mobile division, something I think they and us hope they change with the Xperia 1.


Conclusion

Sony is trying to rejuvenate itself this year with the new, taller 21:9 aspect ratio Xperia devices. The Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus were just appetizers for the upcoming flagship Xperia 1 – a device I am personally very excited for. I think the tall aspect ratio proposition works well, especially at the smaller screen size. The Xperia 10 is a wonderful device to hold and use due to its narrower width than most devices around its size, but the Xperia 10 Plus falls into the unwieldy territory being far too tall and unbalanced and affording zero grip, something I hope the Xperia 1 rectifies slightly. At that smaller size, the taller aspect ratio affords you more content then you get on 18:9 so you feel like you can get more done, see more, and it comes with few drawbacks. Sony looks to be having nothing to do with a flagship compact phone and that is a shame because the hardware of the Xperia 1 in a device the size of the Xperia 10 would be amazing. With these phones, Sony fails on the polish. The speakers are really bad and the vibration motors feel like something is broken internally – both of which are substantially worse on the larger device. The cameras are not great, and for sub-$350 they aren’t a bad proposition, but I was hoping for a lot better thanks to the Sony brand and especially with the Xperia 10 Plus.

As phones, and in the landscape we are in, Sony does what you would expect in differentiating itself from the rest of the market. You don’t have a notch, you don’t have a punch-hole display, and you do have a cinema aspect ratio display that looks and feels like nothing else on the market with a top bezel to match. The problem is that at $349 and $429, you can and should be looking elsewhere for your next device – the experience just isn’t worth that premium. As a sneak peek of where Sony is heading, I think the Xperia 10’s are promising phones as 21:9 can provide some advantages if you are a serial multi-tasker. In my month of on and off usage of the Xperia 10 Plus, I never felt cramped while using multiple applications and messaging friends and workmates and for a lot of people that is a promising future. Other OEM’s are starting to offer their own taller aspect ratio devices like Samsung with the new Galaxy A80 with its 20:9 aspect ratio display and in some ways there could be a market for these new taller displays. If these aspect ratios interest you, and you like what Sony has and you don’t need a good camera – you should probably check out the Xperia 10’s – just don’t pay full price.

Sony Xperia 10 XDA Forum Sony Xperia 10 Plus XDA Forum

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